Mads Davidsen bringing a new ‘sustainable’ mindset to Arabian Gulf League football

Mads Davidsen bringing a new ‘sustainable’ mindset to Arabian Gulf League football
With the Danish Sporting Director, Al-Jazira are hoping to buck the trend of quick fixes and short-term planning that plague other clubs in the UAE and region. (File/Al Jazira FC)
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Updated 19 March 2021

Mads Davidsen bringing a new ‘sustainable’ mindset to Arabian Gulf League football

Mads Davidsen bringing a new ‘sustainable’ mindset to Arabian Gulf League football
  • With the Danish Sporting Director, Al-Jazira are hoping to buck the trend of quick fixes and short-term planning that plague other clubs in the UAE and region

LONDON: Stability and long-term planning aren’t usually associated with football in the Gulf.

Since the start of the 2019/20 Arabian Gulf League season there have been 22 coaching changes among the 14 clubs. In the desperate desire for success, long-term planning is a fantasy for most, with short-term success and job security the modus operandi for most clubs and officials.

But Abu Dhabi-based Al-Jazira are looking to buck that trend, and in newly-appointed sporting director Mads Davidsen, they have the man capable of building and cultivating the desired culture and environment within the club that will breed what every football club craves – sustained success.

“I was brought here for a project they call ‘Sustainable Sporting Success’,” the Dane told Arab News.

“That’s the presentation I had when I was interviewed. I bring a model that I have kind of designed myself through some analytical work, some evidential proof in the world of football, but also my own experiences working in China where we built up a club from the ground,” he said.

HIGHLIGHT

Despite the renewed focus on youth, it is one of Al-Jazira’s stalwarts that is pushing the team toward their third AGL title, with national team striker Ali Mabkhout in almost career-best form, hitting 14 goals in his last eight matches — including three hat tricks.

“I saw from my experience what works and what doesn’t work and how you can do it sustainably, so you’re not spending a lot or you’re not depending on one lucky season and the next you are a disaster,” Davidsen added.

“We’re trying to make a club that can be very stable, that can perform at the same level continuously and not overspend at the same time.”

In a league known for its pursuit of high-profile appointments, especially in managerial positions, Davidsen is certainly not the highest profile acquisition to arrive in the Emirates. But he comes with an established reputation within Asia for his work at Chinese giants Shanghai Port (formerly known as Shanghai SIPG) where he worked alongside the likes of Sven-Göran Eriksson, and Brazilian internationals Oscar and Hulk.

The fact that Al-Jazira turned to him to guide them on this journey, he says, is a sign the club were ready to take this step forward.

“I think in some way the club was ready for this,” he explained.

“And to be honest I think that’s why they hired me. They could’ve hired a lot of other good sporting directors, they could’ve also hired someone with much more higher-level experience than me, they could probably go after people who were sporting directors in the Premier League or in La Liga which I have never been.”

“But I am convinced they hired me because I have proven something with this model,” said Davidsen.

While the Dane hasn’t yet been in the role 12 months, there are already signs of his influence in the squad this year – the youngest in the Arabian Gulf League. As Davidsen explains, that is no accident.

“What we did since the summer we have sold or terminated 14 players’ contracts, which of course has lowered the average age,” he explained. “We simply signed a lot of academy players and we started to sell or loan out players who were a little bit older and we couldn’t see fit into our style of play.”

Promoting young local players has become part of the big picture.

“I use the example of a player like Abdullah Ramadan, who has had a really good season and is now a regular with the UAE national team and has been two times the Player of the Month in the UAE league,” Davidsen said.

“He would not have played if we had kept two all of the very experienced players in his position. He would not have been given a chance. You have to believe in the youth.”

“When we played (this week) against Fujairah we finished the game with the two full backs who are 18 and 20 years old and we scored two goals when they were in the game, which for me is great example that the coach, and the whole club, believe in the project.”

Despite the renewed focus on youth, it is one of Al Jazira’s stalwarts that is pushing the team toward their third AGL title, with national team striker Ali Mabkhout in almost career-best form, hitting 14 goals in his last eight matches – including three hattricks.

“Ali is of course first of all a fantastic player, one of the best players without doubt in the region, and on the continent,” Davidsen said.

“I think with our new way of working we have also given Ali a new momentum, a different kind of motivation. He’s a leader and he’s important for the group because he sees a lot of young players now that need his help and need his support.

“Also if you look at his scoring rates, it’s higher this year than it has been in previous years,” Davidsen added.

“So his performance actually went up this year, which is a great example of a player who has stepped up when it was necessary, because he could see that we offloaded a lot of the experienced players, so he was one of the ones that was left that had to bind together the team.”

With a narrow two-point lead over surprise packets Baniyas with just five games remaining – all against teams currently outside the top five – this is Al-Jazira’s title to lose. But as sweet as success would be, for Davidsen, it is only the beginning.


Jeddah Eagles’ Tala Al-Ghamdi dreams of a future with Saudi squad

Jeddah Eagles’ Tala Al-Ghamdi dreams of a future with Saudi squad
Updated 16 May 2021

Jeddah Eagles’ Tala Al-Ghamdi dreams of a future with Saudi squad

Jeddah Eagles’ Tala Al-Ghamdi dreams of a future with Saudi squad
  • The 21-year-old has already won the inaugural Women’s Football League with her club in November 2020

JEDDAH: Tala Al-Ghamdi is making up for lost time. Not only for herself, but for all Saudi female footballers.

The launch of the Women’s Football League (WFL) in November 2020 brought together 600 players from 24 teams in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam, finally giving Saudi female players the opportunities and recognition they deserve on a national level.

In a short period of time, Al-Ghamdi, who plays for Jeddah Eagles, the winners of the inaugural WFL, has become one of the game’s most promising talents.

Her passion for football and her determination to see women’s football advance in Saudi Arabia began when she first kicked a ball at the age of six.

“I was always into sports, it was a part of my family as well,” said Al-Ghamdi. “We watched various local and international sports tournaments in the country. But, specifically, it was football that I enjoyed the most when I was playing with my relatives, even though girls were not encouraged to be involved with sports. When I was younger, I played with my cousins and the boys in the neighborhood.”

Determined to pursue a career in the sport she joined Jeddah Eagles at the age of 19, where she was given the opportunity to play in the Jeddah Women’s League. Today, three years after joining the team, Al-Ghamdi is competing in the first WFL.

“In my childhood, when we played with the boys they used to put the girls in the position of goalkeeper, but I trusted my abilities and skills, which I believed were good enough for me to be part of the team,” she said.

Al-Ghamd admits that without the support of her parents, she wouldn’t be where she is today.

“When I was young, I just imagined playing football. I continued playing until academies and women’s football competitions started being organised in Jeddah.”

Today, while Al-Ghamdi is thankful that the wider society has changed to the extent that it accepts women’s football, she feels that there is room for more support.

“There’s a lot to be done, honestly,” she said. “The grassroots and younger teams are going in the right direction. Mainly, we need to first accept women’s football culturally. We have all the facilities, the government allows us to play the game and the leadership is supportive, providing all the facilities. But it would make a world of difference if the whole country got behind the game.”

Her ambition is to eventually represent her country at regional and international tournaments. While the Saudi Arabia Football Federation has yet to set up a women’s senior national team, she says she would continue to contribute to the growth of the game and make sure she reaches her personal best.

“For me, the dream would be to play for the Saudi national team,” she said. “But realistically, I really wish to see Saudi women’s football get to the level it deserves. We are on the right path and, if we continue working hard, we will get there.”

Al-Ghamdi has called for the support of women’s football to match the ambitions of Saudi female players who are currently playing in the WFL.

The future is certainly looking brighter on that front with recent developments at continental level that should have a positive impact on the game inside the kingdom.

The latest AFC Women’s Club Licensing criteria are part of the AFC Club Licensing Regulations (Edition 2021), which were ratified by the confederation’s executive committee in January and are expected to have a similar game-changing impact to that on the men’s game, with a focus on sporting, infrastructure, personnel, administrative, legal and financial requirements.

This opens up the possibility of Al-Ghamdi and other Saudi female footballers participating in the newly announced AFC Women’s Champions League, set to kick off in 2023, and which promises to become Asia’s premier women’s club tournament.

“This is very encouraging news and I hope to represent my favorite club, which is Al-Ittihad,” she said.

The 21-year-old right-back also revealed the local and international players she looks up to.

“My role model in world football is Trent Alexander-Arnold, the Liverpool player, for being the modern right-back, and my favorite local player is the rising star Saud Abdel Hamid from Al-Ittihad football club, as he also plays in the position in which I play.”

For now, Al-Ghamdi’s vision for the future of the game remains simple and inclusive.

“My dream is that any girl in Saudi Arabia should have the opportunity to enjoy sport to the maximum and to see the Saudi national team in international tournaments.”


Tyson Fury says heavyweight showdown against Anthony Joshua to take place in Saudi Arabia on Aug. 14

Tyson Fury says heavyweight showdown against Anthony Joshua to take place in Saudi Arabia on Aug. 14
Updated 16 May 2021

Tyson Fury says heavyweight showdown against Anthony Joshua to take place in Saudi Arabia on Aug. 14

Tyson Fury says heavyweight showdown against Anthony Joshua to take place in Saudi Arabia on Aug. 14

LONDON: Tyson Fury said Sunday his long-awaited world heavyweight title unification bout against Anthony Joshua would take place in Saudi Arabia on August 14.
"Massive announcement FURY VS JOSHUA IS ON AUGUST 14 in The kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The worlds (sic) biggest sporting event all eyes on us," Fury tweeted.

 


Between them, the two British boxers hold all four major versions of the heavyweight title.
Saudi Arabia staged the 31-year-old Joshua's rematch against Andy Ruiz, when the Briton regained his WBA, IBF and WBO titles in December 2019, putting him on a collision course with Fury, who became the WBC champion shortly afterwards.
In a video posted to Twitter, Fury said: "I have got some massive news. I have just got off the phone with Prince Khalid of Saudi Arabia and he told me this fight is 100 percent on, August 14."
Fury, a year older than Joshua, added: "All eyes of the world will be on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
"I cannot wait, I repeat, cannot wait to smash Anthony Joshua on the biggest stage of all-time.
"This is going to be the biggest sporting event ever to grace the planet Earth. Do not miss it."
What is widely expected to be the richest fight in British boxing history started to loom into view when Fury stopped Deontay Wilder to win the WBC title in February last year after Joshua had avenged the only loss of his professional career by defeating Ruiz.
Joshua retained his three belts in December with a ninth-round knockout of mandatory challenger Kubrat Pulev.
Meanwhile a third fight between Fury and Wilder has failed to take place, meaning the 'lineal champion' has been inactive in more than 12 months since stopping Wilder in Las Vegas.

 


5 things we learned from latest Saudi Pro League round as top teams stumble

5 things we learned from latest Saudi Pro League round as top teams stumble
Updated 16 May 2021

5 things we learned from latest Saudi Pro League round as top teams stumble

5 things we learned from latest Saudi Pro League round as top teams stumble
  • Al-Hilal remain in pole position despite draw; Al-Shabab and Al-Ittihad fading; relegation battle hotting up

It was another action-packed weekend in the Saudi Pro League as the season draws close to the end. There were thrilling clashes, dropped points and shocking defeats. Most teams have just three games remaining, but there is still plenty to play for at both ends of the table. Here are five things we learned from the latest action.

1. Al-Shabab are spent

There seems to be no other way to say it. The team, vibrant and full of attacking ideas just a few weeks ago, seemed set for the title. But you cannot lose four out of five games at this stage of the season and still expect to get your hands on the trophy. They are now four points behind leaders Al-Hilal with a far inferior goal difference and there does not seem to be any way back. 

The 5-1 loss to Al-Hilal last week could have been written off as an aberration, especially as a red card had a major effect. But to lose 4-3 to Al-Ettifaq on Friday suggests that there is no way back even with what seems to be a gentle run-in. It was not a bad performance, but it was not the performance of champions.

It started well though. Former Manchester United striker Odion Ighalo had the Riyadh club 2-0 up by the midway point of the first half and all was looking good, but then it all went wrong.

There was no secret about the defeat, no turning point: Al-Shabab missed chances and then made mistakes at the back. Coach Carlos Inarejos lamented his team’s luck, and while the young Spaniard did have a point, losing four out of five when the trophy is in sight is not just about luck. 

2. Wonder goal trips up Al-Hilal but champs still on course

Jose Morais’s first game on the sidelines as boss of Al-Hilal was something of a disappointment. Had the champions defeated Al-Batin — a team fighting relegation that had picked up just two points from the previous six games — instead of drawing 1-1, the players would have been close enough to the trophy to see their reflection. 

Al-Hilal took the lead thanks to another fine example of finishing from the league’s leading goal-scorer Bafetimbi Gomis, a wonderful rising volley. But that was nothing compared to Mohammed Rayhi’s strike on the half-hour. 

The Dutch attacker picked up the ball inside his own half as Al-Batin counterattacked, ran to the edge of the Al-Hilal area and unleashed an unstoppable shot. You will not see a better goal all season. It looks like being a significant strike at both ends of the table has not only slowed down Al-Hilal’s march to the title, but could end up saving Al-Batin.

Al-Hilal had a number of chances to win the game, but it was fitting that these were wasted. Rayhi did not deserve to be on the losing side after what he did. Still, the champs are four points clear and looking good.

3. Relegation battle hotting up

Al-Ain became the first team to be relegated this season, though this had been coming for a while. As a newly promoted team, they had started the season with four straight defeats, and while there were occasional rallies, it always looked doomed.

However, others at the bottom are putting up more of a fight. Al-Batin did their survival chances no harm by picking up a point against Al-Hilal, and after eight successive defeats in all competitions, Al-Wehda finally returned to winning ways with an impressive 3-2 win at Al-Fateh.

There is often one team that comes back almost from the dead, and this season it is Damac. Coming off the back of three wins and two draws from the previous five games, the clash against Al-Ittihad was a big one, and it shows how much improved the team are that they were disappointed to draw 1-1.

4. Al-Ittihad in danger of missing out on Asia

The Tigers should be thankful that they have rallied after a slow start to even think about being in the title race, but that dream is surely over. The 1-1 draw with an in-form Damac means they are now five points behind Al-Hilal. More importantly, it means Al-Ittihad have slipped into fourth place behind Al-Taawoun on goal difference.

The focus is now on getting back into the top three and clinching a place in the 2022 AFC Champions League. The Jeddah club have a game in hand over Al-Taawoun and a decent run-in, but with just one win in the last five games, they need to get their house in order and not squander the hard work of recent weeks. 

5. Al-Ahli breathe sigh of relief

It was perhaps fitting that this 1-0 win over Al-Qadisiyah was settled by a second-half penalty from (who else?) Omar Al-Somah. It was a forgettable game but a big result. Officials at Al-Ahli had been talking of the need just to get a win, however possible, to end a seven-game losing streak.

There have been rumors that the stay in Saudi Arabia of recently appointed coach Laurentiu Regencampf was going to be a short one, and while the win does not mean that the Romanian is safe or that all is now well in the green corner of Jeddah, it does mean that perhaps a corner has been turned. At least the narrative has changed, for now.


Saudi table tennis star set for final preparation ahead of Tokyo Olympics

Saudi table tennis star set for final preparation ahead of Tokyo Olympics
Updated 16 May 2021

Saudi table tennis star set for final preparation ahead of Tokyo Olympics

Saudi table tennis star set for final preparation ahead of Tokyo Olympics
  • Ali Al-Khadrawi’s training will be overseen by the Saudi Table Tennis Federation

Saudi Arabia’s top table tennis player Ali Al-Khadrawi is set for a third and final training camp ahead of his participation in the Tokyo Olympics in July, the Arabic sports daily Arriyadiyah has reported.

With Tokyo 2020 approaching fast, the last stage of his preparation will be approved in the coming days then overseen by the Saudi Table Tennis Federation in the weeks that follow.

Al-Khadrawi’s first training took place in Al-Ahsa region, where he was joined by other members of the Saudi national table tennis team. The second phase was completed last Tuesday in Dammam.

The third stage of his preparation is expected to be abroad, with the place and time to be announced on Tuesday.


Djokovic and Nadal set up sixth Italian Open final duel and 57th career clash

Djokovic and Nadal set up sixth Italian Open final duel and 57th career clash
Updated 15 May 2021

Djokovic and Nadal set up sixth Italian Open final duel and 57th career clash

Djokovic and Nadal set up sixth Italian Open final duel and 57th career clash
  • Djokovic and Nadal last played in the 2020 French Open final, which the Spaniard won
  • Djokovic and Nadal have won 14 of the last 16 Rome titles between them

ROME: World number one Novak Djokovic on Saturday battled past Italian Lorenzo Sonego to set up a clash with nine-time winner Rafael Nadal for the sixth time in the Italian Open final.
Defending champion Djokovic won through 6-3, 6-7 (5/7), 6-2 in 2hr 44min against the 33rd-ranked Italian after second seed Nadal earlier swept past American Reilly Opelka 6-4, 6-4.
Djokovic had earlier survived a three-set battle with Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas in their rain-delayed quarter-finals.
The five-time Rome winner had been trailing 6-4, 2-1 when the tie was halted overnight.
But he came back to win through 4-6, 7-5, 7-5 after 3hr 16min.
Djokovic and Nadal, who will be facing each other for the 57th time, last played in the 2020 French Open final which the Spaniard won.
The pair have won 14 of the last 16 Rome titles between them while Nadal leads their head-to-head in finals in the Italian capital 3-2.
Djokovic had two match points in the 12th game of the second set of his semifinal before Sonego forced a third set to the delight of the home crowd in the Foro Italico.
The Serb saved three break points in the first game of the third set, coming back from 0-40 before powering toward his 11th Rome final
“I think I bounced back very well after the second set and 0-40, maybe if he started with a break up in the third it would be different,” said Djokovic.
“I’ve only myself to blame for not closing the match in the second set, I could have and should have.
“First of all I need to recover. I don’t have much time but hopefully I’ll have fresh legs necessary to have against Rafa.”
Djokovic and Nadal have won 14 of the last 16 Rome titles between them with Djokovic leading their overall head-to-head 29-27.
Nadal is looking to equal Djokovic’s record of 36 ATP Masters 1000 titles in his 12th Rome final.